This is highly inadvisable, thought the royal espionage student sprinting soundlessly down the hall.
The adrenaline of the moment, however, brooked no hesitation, and quelled any consideration for later regret.
Rosa didn’t turn at the panicked call of her colleague, or even turn around. He knew what he was getting into when he followed her.
“Rosa! They’ll see you!” Allan hissed again, trotting on tiptoe in an attempt to keep up with her and simultaneously avoid making any sound as he moved. A single footstep would echo with amplified resonance in these vast, empty halls.
Rosa, being barefoot, ran on ahead, unhindered by the heavy boots Allan wore. She’d left hers in her quarters for this exact reason. She glanced over her shoulder at the poor boy with an innocent smile.
Allan shook his head vehemently at her, his blonde curls bouncing.
Rosa ignored his attempt to dissuade her. She stopped running abruptly, her hand resting on one of the massive marble pillars that rose at regular intervals on either hand along the length of the enormous hall. The polished, grey-veined white marble was cool and smooth under her palm. She bit her lip to allay her triumphant grin, rapidly counting the pillars starting from the one she was touching and ending with the ones flanking the archway leading deeper into the castle.
Allan caught up with her then, his cheeks flushed from running and frustration. “Rosa!” he exclaimed for the third time.
Rosa gave him a significant look.
Allan sighed. “Please let me convince you to abandon this ridiculous endeavour?”
Rosa tapped her chin in mock reconsideration. Her dark red eyes sparkled at him. “No.” she said promptly.
Allan ran a hand through his golden mane and muttered, “I thought as much.”
Rosa returned her attention to the pillar, by now certain that it was the fourteenth one from the outer entrance to the hall, and the sixteenth from the inner archway. She dropped to kneel at the pillar’s base.
Allan watched her, half irritated, half curious. “What are you doing now?” he asked.
The base of the pillar was a sturdy block of carved marble, sinking like an anchor into the hall’s floor, which was made of a darker grey marble. While the towering pillar was thick enough to fit a large man inside it, the edges of the squared base were wide enough to sit on. Rosa ran her fingertips along the block, searching for something out of the ordinary and neglecting to answer Allan’s query.
Allan, attuned to her narrow focus and short attention span, knelt beside her and observed.
Rosa found something quite quickly. On the side of the block, something was carved, scarring the marble’s perfection. She swung herself around to crouch before the side of the block, examining what her fingers had found.
Etched deeply into the marble were words. The language they were in caused Rosa to blink, momentarily thrown.
Allan leaned in beside her, frowning at the words. “What in the world is that?” he said.
Rosa looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Allan, we are royal spies in training. You should at least recognize the base language.” she said.
Allan traced the bewildering carvings with his fingertips, as if touching the words could somehow divulge their meaning. “I should, but I don’t.” he admitted.
Rosa smirked, feeling superior. “It’s elven. Very, very old elven.”
“Can you decipher it?” asked Allan.
“The words, yes. But the overall meaning? It’s like a riddle. I just can’t make it out.” Rosa said, her shoulders drooping in disappointment.
Allan gave her a sympathetic pat on the back, but allowed himself to feel quietly relieved.
Rosa’s disappointment shifted to frustration. She’d only be stationed here for another week, and she would never again get a chance to confirm her theory. She’d have to go over her books again, maybe she’d missed something.
“Rosa, we should go now.” Allan urged, his skittishness returning. He grasped her arm, insistent.
Rosa slapped her hand against the etchings one last time in sheer annoyance, using the force to push herself back onto her heels.
Under her push, the marble sank into itself, like a button.
Allan’s hand tightened on her arm.
With an alarmingly loud grating of stone on stone, the pillar’s side slid open, revealing it to be hollow. A narrow chute led down out of sight.
Rosa’s grin returned twofold, a manic fire igniting in her maroon eyes.
Noticing it, Allan tensed, laying both hands on his impetuous colleague’s arm. “Rosa, don’t you dare–”
Rosa slapped away his restraining hold and leapt down the chute.
Allan cursed, but followed without a second thought.
Darkness pressed in on Rosa, as well as the tight sides of the chute. She tucked her elbows and braced herself, excitement kindling.
Her bare feet hit something completely unexpected. Carpet?
Before her eyes could shift to allow her to see in the utter lack of light, a soundless rush overhead informed her that her colleague had followed her.
Rosa moved quickly out of the way, letting Allan drop safely at her side.
He instinctively reached for her in the total darkness. Finding her arm, he composed himself and shook out his glorious blonde curls.
At the action, a soft golden glow emanated from his hair, allowing him to see his surroundings.
Rosa, not needing the light of her colleague’s multipurpose mane, cast her now scarlet eyes to the floor, which was covered by a thick emerald carpet, then to the room in front of her.
Vast pillars, not unlike the marble ones from the hall they’d just left, rose up and out of sight into the shadowed ceiling. Except these pillars were square and stout, and made not of white marble, but of blonde wood. And each and every pillar was filled with books.
They were bookshelves! Countless, towering, narrow bookshelves, as far as the eye could see. The underground room was huge.
Rosa whirled to face Allan, her eyes, though bathed in alarming red light, were triumphant, awed and delighted. “I found it!” she proclaimed, beaming at him.
Allan smiled back, defenseless against her contagious delight. “You found it.” he agreed.
Rosa squealed again, darting amongst the woodland of tall bookcases. She wove through them in a dizzying dance, her hands brushing the spines of books that hadn’t been read in possibly centuries. She wasn’t sure where to start.
Allan took a more leisurely pace towards the nearest shelf, and selected a tome at random. Reading by the light of his luminous hair, he flipped through the undecayed pages, marvelling.
“Preservation spells. Definitely elven.” he observed aloud.
Rosa stopped her weaving dance to look at him questioningly.
“Elves, being the oldest immortal race next to the vampires, have long used preservation spells on their libraries and strongholds to protect their invaluable caches of knowledge.” Allen recited from memory in response to Rosa’s look.
Rosa nodded slowly, reaching for the shelf in front of her. “Makes sense.” she said.
She opened the black-covered book titled, in elven, The Dragon Alliance. It sounded like a storybook, but upon further inspection it was revealed to be records of the first alliance between the South Cyruthan elves and the Dragons of Fadis. Excited, she sank to the floor, dropping the book open in her lap.
Allan shut his own book with a snap. He took one look at his colleague sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor with a thick tome in her lap, as if she intended to read the entire thing in one sitting, and laughed.
Rosa tore her glowing red eyes away from the book, distracted by his uncharacteristic outburst. “What’s funny?” she asked.
“You.” Allan replied promptly. “You know we have to leave now, right?”
Rosa looked torn. “Y-es. But we’ll come back as much as we can over the week.” she declared with certainty.
Allan nodded in agreement. He replaced his book as Rosa regained her feet.
Rosa made to shut her book, but paused. She reached for her hair.
Allan watched as she pulled the violet ribbon out of her ponytail, letting her chestnut curls cascade down around her shoulders.
Rosa placed her ribbon carefully across the page of the book, before letting the cover fall closed and putting it reluctantly back on the shelf. She moved past Allan back to the chute, which hung low enough to be easily reachable.
Allan came to her side with an amused expression on his face.
Rosa gave him a look that said, What?
Allan shrugged. “Nothing. It’s just, you are one of the few people alive who possesses a perfectly flawless memory, and you still use bookmarks.”
Rosa looked away pointedly. She waved at the chute. “You can go up first in case there’s someone outside in the hall.”
Allan gave her a look, but obediently hefted himself up into the pillar, using his toes and the flat of his forearms to push and climb his way up the narrow space.
Rosa hesitated in his wake. She took one last glance around the underground library. Again, she bit her lip to hold her smile. She’d found it.
And if she had it her way, she’d soon be returning to the forgotten library.
~ by Helen Cryestira Viorel, 5th October, 2019
Artwork by pixundfertig